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Saxa Politica: Brick by brick, building our story

February 6, 2014


It’s time to admit it: Georgetown’s buildings are ugly.

With the exception of the main quad, Georgetown wasn’t designed in a unified architectural style. While we have enough soaring edifices to satisfy most people’s mental image of what a prestigious university should look like, the ratio of architectural treasures to eyesores here is considerably lower than nearly all our peer institutions. Princeton, the University of Virginia, and Boston College each have sections of campus with buildings that complement each other in style and composition. But, at Georgetown, every Healy Hall has three Darnalls to match.

The majority of campus is constructed of brick, and, through the years, campus planners couldn’t be bothered to match the type of brick. Every building is a mismatch, and every style is incongruous. Even Healy Hall’s interior side is constructed of brick instead of the Gothic stone used on the reverse side. Southwest Quad, the Jesuit Residence, and Leo’s Dining Hall is the only group of buildings I can think of that match each other, because they were all built in conjunction with one another.

Throughout most of its history, Georgetown was a regional, Catholic university specializing in instruction, not research. It wasn’t until the latter part of the twentieth century that the school began to transform into the global research institution that it is today. Given the school’s financial constraints, grand works of architecture weren’t feasible. Instead, construction focused on the practical, not the grandiose.

But, finally, with the 2010 Campus Plan passed and implemented, the University finally has the means and foresight to start to think seriously about long-term planning. Our structures send a message about who we are as a school, and recent construction has presented a strong image for the future. The Hariri Building was constructed with a contemporary design yet contains accents from Georgetown’s past: the modern glass comports well with the stone siding. Across the quad, Regents Hall contains many of the same architectural elements, but, instead of stone, it utilizes metal and brick—which makes sense given the building’s use as Georgetown’s new scientific research facility.

The school’s newest construction project, the dormitory planned for the Northeast Triangle location originally copied many of the same architectural elements: metal and glass surfaces contrasted with flat stone façades. But when the design was presented to students, many of them expressed uncharacteristically energetic opposition to the building. The building’s unofficial tagline became “Reiss and Lau’s baby.”

The criticism of the building centered on how it doesn’t fit with Georgetown’s storied history. Students said they wanted more buildings that look like Healy, White-Gravenor, and Copley—some sort of grotesque neo-neo-Gothic revival. There’s always some room for student engagement for on-campus issues. For example, students said that putting a pub in the New South Student Center was a priority, and so it is happening.

But outsourcing decisions to the public isn’t always the best way to make decisions. Sometimes a highly-informed but small group of people can make a better decision than a large semi-informed group of people. During engagement sessions, administrators and architects spent most of their time just explaining their thought processes. In the end, the new design isn’t much different than the old one, for which I applaud the architects. For something as permanent as construction on campus, it’s important to have informed people making the decisions. With the right direction, Georgetown’s architecture can tell a different story.

Pontificate about Georgetown’s incongruity with Connor at cjones@georgetownvoice.com.


Connor Jones
Connor Jones is the former editor-in-chief of the Georgetown Voice. Before that, he edited its blog, Vox Populi and the features section. He was a double major in mathematics and economics and is from Atlanta, Ga. He can be reached at cjones@georgetownvoice.com.


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    Connor – great article, but I’m not sure why the apparent knocking of students’ desire for buildings that echo back to Georgetown’s great designs. You refer them it as “some sort of grotesque neo-neo-Gothic revival”, but the designs students wanted – as reflected in the Change.org petition that listed numerous modern-day architects who have produced modern buildings in classical taste – show that classical design in the modern era need not be oxymoronic concepts. See the new Stokes Hall at BC or Whitman College at Princeton. Both harken back to their school’s traditional roots without being grotesque or Disneyfied parodies.

    And students said that putting a pub in Healy was a priority – but the University settled for the New South Pub.

    In both instances, I would side with the students than “a highly-informed but small group of people” who made both of the above decisions.


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